Kobe Bryant didn’t practice today, because of his sprained right wrist, but there are bigger issues. Phil Jackson was asked a simple question after practice today. Do the Lakers look better to him now than they did at the start of training camp? Here’s where Phil went with it…
“It was my feeling, from a conversation with Kobe (before training camp), that he was going to work at this thing and put his full being into this,” Jackson said. “Right now he’s having a hard time doing that.”
Wait, back up. Did Phil just say that Kobe’s problems are more mental than physical?
“Yeah, mentally getting himself here and playing hard.”
And is this having a negative impact on the players?
“I think that they were, that they are, a little bit confused,” Jackson said. “Obviously (Bryant) hasn’t thrown his heart and soul into performing on the floor, and I think that hurts a little bit. I think they’re enjoying their time together right now. I think they liked the game. I think they had a good time together last night, and it was good for them. But I think there’s a certain sense of, `How does this all fit together?’ It’s just natural. They’re young and they haven’t seen a situation like this before.”
There’s not much reading between the lines needed here. Phil thinks Kobe is still sulking and isn’t giving the Lakers 100 percent. So, Jackson was asked, does he bear the responsibility to pull Kobe out of his funk?
“I think in a certain manner, yes,” Jackson said. “But in this regard, I’ve been working on it since June 1. Is that about the day the whole thing started? The issue started with Jerry West. … Here we are, going on June, July, August, September and October. Five months. So it’s a five-month, kind of, `What is it?’ situation. So we’re happy the season is starting and it’s real ball.”
Jackson was asked if he needed to go to Bryant and flat-out say, “You’re not going to be traded,” in hopes of getting Kobe focused on the Lakers.
“Well, those aren’t the words that Dr. Buss spoke,” Jackson said. “We made an agreement that’s honorable and we plan to honor that agreement. Chances are very slim (of a trade). When it’s fire-sale time, not too many people come out and deal honorably at fire-sale time. And this is not a fire-sale time.”
Jackson was asked if Buss’ comments in Hawaii, about trading Kobe and about loyalty, etc., had harmed the situation.
“I don’t want to respond to that, in those terms,” Jackson said. “I just think that Dr. Buss spoke the truth. The headlines might not have belied it.”
Finally, Jackson seemed to make a last-ditch effort to reach Kobe through the media and turn the situation around.
“This is Kobe’s legacy, the Lakers,” Jackson said. “This is where he’s grown up and gotten married and had kids, the whole bit. We’re still devoted to seeing that, hopefully, still be a part of what he is.”
And what about Kobe? He was in a good mood until Jackson’s comments were relayed to him. Afterward, not so much…
“That’s the least of his concerns, or anybody’s concerns,” Bryant said. “You don’t got to worry about that.”
Asked if he was worried that his situation might impact the team negatively, Bryant said, “I don’t know what situation you’re talking about. I told you, I’m not going to talk about it no more. Just because me not wanting to be a distraction. If they want to talk about it, if management wants to talk about it, then let them talk about it. I’m not going to let this linger. I’m not going to talk about it. I’m going to talk about the season and what we can do to get better, and that’s it.”
So, there you go. The wrist was too sore for Bryant to practice today. The Lakers are taking Sunday off and will practice Monday in preparation for Tuesday’s season opener. Bryant said he expects to play Tuesday, and Jackson agreed. At least they agree on something…